Boston University Study Shows Social Media Can Increase Risks of Teen Smoking

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A new study has found that social media can increase the risk of young people taking up smoking or vaping. Researchers at Boston University of Public Health have discovered that using social media apps such as TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram regularly can make young people 67% more likely to start smoking within a year. The study also found that young people who engage with tobacco marketing by liking or following content from tobacco brands are at an even greater risk of using tobacco products.

While there is nothing new about young people being susceptible to the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry, the direct correlation between social media and smoking has brought social media companies under further scrutiny regarding their potential harm to teens and young adults.

The research highlights how tobacco companies use social media to promote their products to young people, often using candy-flavored products, celebrity endorsements, and other tactics. Although smoking rates have decreased among American teenagers since the mid-1990s, there are still an estimated 2.8 million middle and high school pupils who currently use at least one tobacco product.

The study suggests that parents should strictly supervise their children's social media use to prevent them from being targeted by tobacco companies. It also calls for more regulation of tobacco advertising on social media platforms and for greater education about the risks of tobacco use. While the US government has some regulatory authority over tobacco marketing, social media companies have significant discretion over the content that appears on their platforms, and tobacco companies can still exploit loopholes to target young people.

While social media and manipulative marketing are certainly putting young people in danger of taking up smoking, helping kids make smart choices about their health is a function that primarily comes from the home and secondarily from schools. Furthermore, once they begin smoking, the burden of educating them on the benefits of quitting smoking can be shared by social media platforms as well. Innovative campaigns that include celebrities and influencers can help persuade young people to make smarter choices about their health. 

In addition, researchers in the study argue that social media platforms need to do more to regulate tobacco marketing and that the government should introduce stricter regulations, just as it has done for TV and print ads. The study shows how social media can be harmful to young people and adds to the growing body of research on the negative effects of social media.

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